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Why using a conveyancing firm for probate dispute cost one woman dearly

The danger of not using properly qualified and experienced lawyers to tackle probate disputes has been dramatically highlighted by a recent court case.

Instead of using solicitors approved to conduct probate or litigation work, Andrene Kerr-Robinson opted for a conveyancing firm, unlicensed to act in this area, to defend her in a dispute connected to an estate she was administering – with disastrous consequences.

At the High Court last month (August), she was ordered to pay back to the estate nearly £87,000 she had handed over to Blueprint Property Lawyers and which they had lost after they went into insolvent liquidation in early 2014.

Lawyers “not authorised to conduct litigation at all”

Judge Master Matthews was highly critical of Ms Kerr-Robinson and ruled that she had not acted reasonably in defending the proceedings, brought by other potential beneficiaries of the estate.

He said: “I record that, first of all, the defendant engaged lawyers who were in fact not authorised to conduct litigation at all. Second, the defendant agreed to the retainer of Blueprint, including their high charging rates, instructing Blueprint to go ahead, and did not place any kind of cap or limit the value of the work which Blueprint did or the charges it could make…

“Overall, I am not satisfied that it was proper for the defendant on behalf of the estate and at the estate’s expense to engage Blueprint to defend the defendant in the litigation in which she was involved.”

Escalating bills

Although a deputy judge revoked Ms Kerr-Robinson’s right to deal with the estate and ordered her to deliver the assets of the estate to an interim administrator back in 2012, most of the money had been transferred into Blueprint’s account by this point.

Ms Kerr-Robinson then allowed the money to be used to pay Blueprint’s escalating legal bills for nearly £59,000 covering 107 hours work over 24 days.

Last month, Master Matthews came down hard on her.

“In the present case there was no need whatever for the defendant to hand over the estate monies to Blueprint for estate administration, or indeed any other estate purpose,” he said.

“In the retainer letter, there was a reference to transferring those monies to Blueprint ‘for safe holding’.

“But the monies were safe where they were. Indeed, as it turned out, rather safer.”

No safety net

Although Blueprint was licensed to carry out conveyancing, the losses it suffered took place in the course of probate and litigation work which it was not authorised to perform.

Because of this, Blueprint’s regulator, the Council of Licenced Conveyancers, disclaimed any liability to compensate Ms Kerr-Robinson or the estate for the loss suffered.

And although one of the employees at Blueprint was a solicitor, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, has also disclaimed any liability as Blueprint was not a firm of solicitors regulated by them.

  • Later this month (21 September) the Solicitors Regulation Authority will finish its 16 week consultation into whether to allow individual solicitors to work with non-regulated companies. Its stated aim is to increase access to legal services by removing unnecessary bureaucracy and freeing solicitors up to work in new markets.

For help and advice about probate disputes, please contact our specialist disputes team at Wards Solicitors by phone or by popping into one of our 11 local offices.

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